The 12th European Maccabiah Games began Thursday night with the opening ceremony at Rome's Stadio Flaminio. More than 2,000 Jewish athletes from 38 countries will take part in 16 different sporting events, making it the largest European Maccabiah Games ever. The first European Maccabiah was held in Prague in 1929, and the following year the Games came to Antwerp. After a 29-year break, the games returned, with Copenhagen, Denmark, hosting the event in 1959. By the end of the 1960s the European editions of the Games assumed the structure that we know today. The Games are held every four years and are organized as a collective effort between the European Maccabi Confederation and the Maccabi Federation of the hosting nation. Each country chooses its teams and representatives. Jewish athletes from all over Europe - including the Slavic countries, Russia and the Baltic nations - Americans and Australians will compete in Rome, the oldest Jewish community in the Diaspora. Badminton, basketball, bridge, chess, fencing, football, karate and 10-pin bowling will be among the events that will be contested until the July 11 closing ceremony. "We're all very proud to see thousands of young Jewish athletes at the sporting venues of Acqua Acetosa and the Foro Italico," said Vittorio Pavoncello, president of the organizing committee. "The Games will be a great opportunity for Jews from a well of different nations to socialize, and I hope this may be fruitful for all Judaism. This is a goal that the organizing committee of the Games have put in front of any other, in the conviction that this encounter must be a real occasion for knowledge and development."